Mar 26, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Matt Williams hinted yesterday morning that he planned to make some cuts after the day’s exhibition game against the Mets. Little could anyone have guessed just how many cuts the Nationals manager would make, nor how surprising some of the moves (and their domino effects) would be.
Having had some time now to process it all, here are some more thoughts about everything that transpired, and what it means moving forward…
— Easily the most surprising development was the removal of both Tyler Moore and Jamey Carroll from the mix for the final spot on the Nationals’ bench. But in thinking about that battle over the last week or so, it had become difficult to make a strong case for either player. Not because neither was deserving of a spot on the Opening Day roster, but because it was pretty obvious whoever won that job would barely get an opportunity to play, if any opportunity at all.
With Ryan Zimmerman now ready to serve as Adam LaRoche’s backup at first base, with Danny Espinosa clearly the club’s choice to be the backup middle infielder, and with both Nate McLouth and Scott Hairston backing up in the outfield, there was just no way Moore or Carroll would have been used as anything more than pinch-hitting specialists. Which neither really is. Moore needs more regular at-bats to stay sharp, so his demotion to Class AAA Syracuse makes sense. If and when the need arises in Washington, you want him already to be comfortable at the plate, not still working to get his swing down. Carroll, meanwhile, would have been a wonderful influence in the clubhouse, but what tangible, on-field role would he have held at this point?
— So that leaves two really surprising names left competing to be the Nationals’ 25th man: Jeff Kobernus and Sandy Leon. What kind of odds would you have gotten on that back on Feb. 13? Kobernus obviously would bring blazing speed to the table and would be an ideal pinch-runner late in games for LaRoche or Wilson Ramos. Leon, as the third catcher, would almost certainly never get a chance to play, but his presence would give Williams the peace of mind to use Ramos or Jose Lobaton as a pinch-hitter in key spots. It would be an unconventional decision, to say the least, but there is some rationale to it.
— Having said all that, I’m not convinced the Nationals aren’t still going to acquire another player to take that final spot on the bench. A host of available players have flooded the open market in the last few days, and more will be added to the list in the next day or two as clubs make their final cuts. There already has been speculation about Kevin Frandsen, released by the Phillies yesterday, and he certainly would make sense for the Nats. If they were going to add another position player, you’d think they would want a veteran, right-handed corner infielder. Whether they can actually acquire someone who fits that description remains to be seen, but I’m fairly certain they’re actively looking around.
— With Ryan Mattheus and Xavier Cedeno optioned to Syracuse and Michael Gonzalez released, the final spot in the Opening Day bullpen officially goes to Aaron Barrett. It’s a great story of perseverance for the 26-year-old right-hander, who nearly gave up baseball a couple years ago when he developed the yips but wound up dominating as Class AA Harrisburg’s closer last season. Barrett outperformed every other reliever in camp, tossing 9 2/3 scoreless innings, so he certainly earned the roster spot. But there’s no guarantee he’s completely ready for what lies ahead. The leap from Class AA to the majors is a huge one, and Barrett is going to be facing much tougher hitters now than he did in the late innings of Grapefruit League games over the last month. It’ll be fascinating to see how he performs, though, and it’s impossible not to be excited for the guy.
— So, the full, 7-man bullpen will be: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, Ross Detwiler, Jerry Blevins and Barrett. Not exactly how anyone drew it up before camp opened, but there’s some real potential for this to be a dominant bullpen, top to bottom.
— It was somewhat surprising that Tanner Roark’s only chance of making the roster is as the No. 5 starter, not as a reliever as had been speculated all along. Williams made it clear yesterday, though, that the loser of the Roark/Taylor Jordan battle will be sent to Syracuse. And there’s still no resolution to that battle, with club officials seeing merits to either right-hander. As has been said all along, there won’t be a decision made until the Nationals are absolutely confident Doug Fister is ready to open the season on-time. Fister will throw 60-to-65 pitches in a minor-league game Thursday afternoon, so it would seem the Roark/Jordan decision won’t be made before that outing takes place.
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